New York’s Finger Lakes is one of those destinations that has it all: culture, spectacular natural beauty, history, fine restaurants and some of the best wineries on the East Coast. The dramatic scenery comes courtesy of the last Ice Age, 12,000 years ago, when receding glaciers carved deep gorges in the landscape and left more than 1,000 waterfalls, as well as 11 finger-shaped lakes in their wake. The plethora of colleges and universities in the area— most notably Cornell— provide a dose of culture via art museums and live theater, and Finger Lakes wineries produce some surprisingly tasty wine in a climate that’s markedly unlike California’s.
Roughly a 5 1/2-hour drive from Baltimore, the Finger Lakes makes an ideal getaway for a four-day weekend or a week. Here are 20 ideas to help you plan your trip.
1. Eat Fish, Live Longer
The only restaurant in the Finger Lakes to make the “Saveur 100” list of top food treats and to have been written up in Gourmetmagazine serves its drinks in Styrofoam cups and its fish on paper plates. Doug’s Fish Fry has been a beloved Skaneateles institution since 1982. Its entryway walls are covered with photographs of devotees mugging with the restaurant’s ubiquitous red and white bumper stickers— “Eat fish, live longer”— in exotic locales from Moscow to Mozambique. On busy nights, lines form out the door, as locals clamor for Doug’s fried scrod sandwiches, clams, scallops and shrimp. And if the thought of eating fish in Central New York sounds as appealing as cracking crabs in Cleveland, you should know that Doug gets his fresh seafood shipped on ice from Boston five days a week. 8 Jordan St., Skaneateles, 315-685-3288.
2. Visit the Birthplace of Women’s Suffrage
On July 19, 1848, a group of 300 progressive- minded men and women from around the country gathered in Seneca Falls to discuss “the social, civil and religious condition and rights of woman.” Led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, the group penned the Declaration of Sentiments, an “alternative” version of the Declaration of Independence, declaring that “all men and women are created equal.”
All that’s left of the original Wesleyan chapel where the group met are a few brick walls and a fragile roof, now part of the Women’s Rights National Historical Park overseen by the National Park Service. Next door, a comprehensive visitor center documents the convention as well as other momentous events in the struggle for gender equality. Most interesting are the interactive video displays that test how men and women respond to issues such as dating, birth control and the workplace environment. The results, compiled over a number of months, show that men and women still have very different opinions when it comes to gender roles in society. 136 Fall St., Seneca Falls, 315-568-2991, http://www.nps.gov/wori.
3. Eat at the Restaurant that Inspired the Cookbooks
From the outside, Moosewood Restaurant doesn’t look like a proper mecca for vegetarians and healthy eaters. Sure, there’s a nice outdoor patio with table seating, but the landmark restaurant itself is located on the first floor of DeWitt Mall, a hulking refurbished redbrick school building. The unpretentious setting is secondary to the food here, which usually consists of just four fresh entrees (one fish) and several appetizers, salads and soups, a lineup that changes every day. Diners sit at wooden tables as hip members of the “collective” in black T-shirts deliver spinach-cheese burritos and eggplant scaloppine. There’s a bar out front and a gift shop, natch, where foodies can buy Moosewood cookbooks and other paraphernalia. Arrive early for lunch or dinner because reservations are not accepted. 215 N. Cayuga St., Ithaca, 607- 273-9610, http://www.moosewoodrestaurant.com.
4. Visit the Jewel of the Lakes
Skaneateles is one of those idyllic small towns you visit and think, “Why don’t I live here?” (Perhaps because its name is so hard to spell.) Set on 11-mile-long Skaneateles Lake— one of the cleanest of the Finger Lakes— the New England-esque town has all the right stuff: gorgeous Greek Revival and Victorian homes, a quaint downtown of small boutiques and antiques shops, a couple of fine restaurants and a waterfront park with a small sandy beach. Strict zoning and development laws have kept McMansions and national chains at bay. (A lone Talbots store snuck in a few years back.) Take a three-hour cruise on the Barbara S. Wiles, a circa-1937 mahogany mail boat that still delivers the morning post to lakeside cottages. The cruise is a great way to scout out your future home. 800-545-4318, http://www.midlakesnav.com
5. Go for a Gorge-ous Hike
“Ithaca is Gorges” has been printed on Central New York T-shirts and bumper stickers for years. (“Ithaca Is Not George’s” has been popular with the left-leaning populous the last few years.) The deep crevasses formed by receding glaciers thousands of years ago have left the town with plenty of dramatic landscapes. There are several deep gorges on the Cornell campus alone, but the best place to see nature’s handiwork is on the outskirts of town at Robert H. Treman State Park. Start your hike at the park’s upper entrance and continue past waterfalls, natural bridges and rock formations that look like something out of “Lord of the Rings.” Stop for a picnic and a cool swim beneath a waterfall before hoofing it back up the gorge. 105 Enfield Falls Road, Ithaca, 607-273-3440, http://www.nysparks.state.ny.us/parks.
6. Gorgeous Gorges, Part 2
A sign at Watkins Glen State Park alerts visitors hiking along a stream at the bottom of a 60-foot-deep gorge to “look up. Twelve thousand years ago,” it reads, “the creek was above your head.” The park’s awesome crevasses are a testament to the power of flowing water, but also to the Civilian Conservation Corps, which, in the 1930s, carved paths and stairways into the gorges’ slate walls, making it much easier for modern-day visitors to explore. The primary Gorge Trail is an easy halfday’s hike across natural and man-made bridges among 19 waterfalls within the park, including 60-foot-tall Central Cascade, behind which visitors can walk. Come early in the morning to avoid the afternoon crowds. At night, the falls are illuminated in reds, greens and blues. Near south end of Seneca Lake, off Route 14, village of Watkins Glen, 607-535-8888, http://www.nysparks.state.ny.us/parks..
7. Climb a Tree
Mention the words “six-story treehouse” and watch the kids go nuts. The Cayuga Nature Center’s crowning achievement was the result of a class project completed by Ithaca High School’s class of 2000. The wooden treehouse sits at the edge of a gorge, overlooking Denison Falls, wandering wildlife, and the area’s mixed forest of oak, hemlock and maple. Kids will love climbing up and down its stairs and rope ladders and generally eluding parents for hours. 1420 Taughannock Blvd., Ithaca, 607-273-6260, http://www.cayuganaturecenter.org.
8. Start Your Engines
The Fingers Lakes is generally a peaceful place— until car racing season starts. Watkins Glen International Speedway hosts eight races between April and September, including early August’s NASCAR series when hotel parking lots for miles around fill up with cars festooned with the No. 3. (And the numbers of other favorite drivers.) It’s New York state’s biggest sporting event (besting even the Belmont Stakes), so reserve your room waaay in advance. 2790 Route 16, Watkins Glen, 607-535-2481, http://www.theglen.com.
9. To Market, To Market
Don’t ask for Manhattan bagels or even bottled water at the Ithaca Farmers’ Market. Everything sold there is grown or made within 30 miles of the place. But its stalls do offer plenty of flavors from afar— Cambodian spring rolls, Cuban beans and rice, Tibetan momos and Mexican pollo verde burritos made with grilled chicken and tomatillo sauce. Dozens of booths set up along the banks of Cuyahoga Lake sell locally grown fresh produce and works by regional artists. Musicians— ranging from 10-year-old violinists (“I’ve been playing since I was 3 1/2”) to jug bands and a blues guitar-trombone duo— liven up the funky scene. Saturdays and Sundays, April through December and Thursdays during summer. 607-273-7109, http://www.ithacamarket.com.
10. Eat a Grape Pie
The Finger Lakes region is considered the Grape Pie Capital of the World. (Actually, it’s unclear if the pies are made anywhere else.) You can find them at diners and farm stands throughout the region, but Monica’s Pies in Naples, N.Y., is the best known. Monica Clark started making them in the early ’80s with Concord grapes unused by the local wineries. Since then she and her pies have been profiled on the Food Network and in The New York Times. The confectionary itself is delicate and flaky and tastes as if it’s been stuffed with very fresh Concord grape jam. Monica also bakes a dozen other kinds of pies in her “Pie Barn” and will mail any of them for $15, plus shipping. 7599 Route 21, Naples, 585-374-2139, http://www.monicaspies.com
11. See Art Inside of Art
Cornell University’s Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art doesn’t just contain some spectacular art; the building itself is a masterpiece. Designed by I.M. Pei, and opened in 1973, the 10-story cement structure was Pei’s second museum. Built on the site where Ezra Cornell is said to have stood when he announced his intention to found a university, the building is comprised of hulking abstract blocks that somehow appear as graceful as they do sturdy. Inside, permanent and changing exhibitions showcase art from Europe, the Americas and a particularly strong collection of objects from Asia. One of the most distinctive displays is the view of Ithaca and Cayuga Lake from the museum’s fifth floor. Open Tuesday through Sunday, free admission. Central and University avenues, Ithaca, 607-255-6464, http://www.museum.cornell.edu
12. Smell the Flowers
Cornell University was among the nation’s first land grant institutions, so it’s not surprising that its students and faculty still display a collective green thumb. Cornell Plantations, a sprawling display of shrubs, trees and flowers, is where they show off. Garden lovers can wander the botanical and wildflower gardens as well as the Newman Arboretum, which displays New York state trees and shrubs. Nine miles of walking trails run throughout the plantations and surrounding campus, linking several dozen smaller gardens with the arboretum. Most notable is the plantation’s 300-specie-strong collection of rhododendrons that light up the hillside near the visitors center every May and June. 1 Plantations Road, Ithaca, 607-255-3020, http://www.plantations.cornell.edu
13. Visit a Winery
You probably won’t confuse the Finger Lakes’ wines with those made in Napa, but its 80-plus wineries do produce some of the country’s finest whites, particularly Rieslings. And the scenery along the region’s three wine trails, looping around lakes Seneca, Cayuga and Keuka, rivals anything found in California, especially during fall. Some of the best wineries ring relatively undeveloped Keuka Lake, where you’ll find Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars, the best known— and most decorated— of the bunch. Dr. Frank gets credit for launching the local “Vinifera Revolution” (growing European grapes in the Finger Lakes) in 1962, when the Ukrainian immigrant devised a way to graft French grapevines onto a rootstock hardy enough to survive the chilly climate. Dr. Frank died in 1985, but his son Willy and grandson Fred continue the winemaking tradition. The much-celebrated Dry Riesling is what you should be drinking here. 9749 Middle Road, Hammondsport, 800-320- 0735, http://www.drfrankwines.com Glenora Wine Cellars often challenges Dr. Frank’s for best wines. Opened in 1977, Glenora’s Johannesburg Riesling has been rated tops in America two years running, and George W. Bush quaffed the winery’s reserve chardonnay at his first inauguration. Glenora also features a top-notch restaurant and inn. 5435 Route 14, Dundee, 800-243-5513, http://www.glenora.com Bully Hill— and its colorful wine labels with names like “Love My Goat” and “Fish Market White”— is available in Maryland wine shops, but the tasting experience there is more like a fraternity party, as young pourers implore visitors to “Drink! Drink! Drink!” Oneophiles will be horrified by the scene— as well as by the wines— but those used to swilling beer at keg parties will feel right at home. 8843 Greyton H. Taylor Memorial Drive, Hammondsport, 607-868-3610, http://www.bullyhill.com (For a list of all Finger Lakes wineries and to request maps, visit http://www.fingerlakeswinecountry. com or call 800-813-2958.)
14. Go For a Swim
Don’t just look at the pretty water, get in it. Lake Skaneateles and especially, Keuka Lake, are reputedly the cleanest for swimming. Keuka Lake State Park has a small public beach for swimming as does the picture-perfect small town of Hammondsport at the lake’s southern end. Swimmers cool off in Lake Skaneateles from the shores of the town’s waterfront park.
15. Discover an Inventor
On July 4, 1908, a small crowd watched as Glenn H. Curtiss piloted his one-man airplane, June Bug, for 1 kilometer, thereby completing the first advertised public flight in history. (The Wright Brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk was done in total secrecy.) Curtiss, who was born in the town of Hammondsport, went on to create more than 500 inventions, including new designs for dirigibles, motorcycles and “hydroaeroplanes” or flying boats. The “Henry Ford of Aviation” (he produced the first privately produced aircraft in the United States) also invented the streamline trailer and developed several Florida resort towns, including Miami Springs. The Glenn H. Curtiss Museum has a comprehensive collection of many of his inventions, in- cluding a reproduction of a motorcycle on which Curtiss, aka, “The World’s Fastest Man,” set the world speed record of 136 mph in 1907. 8419 Route 54, Hammondsport, 607- 569-2160, http://www.linkny.com/curtissmuseum.
16. See Some Cool Glass
The Corning Museum of Glass lies on the edges of the general Finger Lakes tourism route, in Corning, N.Y., but its amazing collection of more than 45,000 glass objects demands a detour. There are works on display representing literally every country and historical period in which glassmaking has been practiced. Check out fish-shaped glass lids from first-century Italy to designs in stained glass by Frank Lloyd Wright. Visitors can watch artists creating glass vessels or blow their own works in glass at the Walk-In Workshop. (No experience necessary.) One Museum Way, Corning, 800-732- 6845, http://www.cmog.org
17. Pick Some Apples
New York state is even better known for its apples than its grapes. Farmers grow dozens of varieties in the area, from Arkansas Black to Yellow Transparent. The town of LaFayette celebrates the picking season every October with a massive festival, when 90,000 apple lovers converge to eat the fruit prepared in myriad ways. (See http://www.lafayetteapplefest.org) For a list of orchards and schedules of when and where to pick your own, see http://www.nyapplecountry.com
18. Check Out a Play
Ithaca’s population is about one-tenth of Baltimore’s, but both cities boast the same number of professional theaters: two. The Hangar Theatre is a regional theater— equivalent to Center Stage— and presents a five-play summer season on its main stage and more avant-garde productions in a smaller theater. (800-284-8422, www. hangartheatre.org) The more intimate Kitchen Theatre Company puts on musicals, dramas, family and counter-culture productions in a tiny, 73-seat space. (607- 272-0403, http://www.kitchentheatre.com)
19. Eat Ice Cream
Ice cream and wine go together, don’t they? In Interlaken, along the Cayuga Lake Winery Trail, lies Cayuga Lake Creamery, a local favorite for its thick, homemade flavors ranging from almond joy to tiramisu. Even the waffle cones are made in-house. Try the blueberry in a waffle cone. “It’s great for breakfast,” one of the creamery’s scoopers recommends. 8421 Route 89, Interlaken, 607-532-9492, http://www.cayugalakecreamery.com
20. See Some Serious Falls
Niagara Falls may only be a two-hour drive from the Finger Lakes, but Trumansburg’s Taughannock Falls are taller. With a drop of 215 feet, it’s one of the tallest waterfalls east of the Rocky Mountains. (By comparison, the American side of Niagara is 176 feet tall.) Located in Taughannock Falls State Park, the falls drop into a lake surrounded by a glen with 400-foot-tall walls. Don’t expect quite the thunderous splendor of Niagara— and there’s no Maid of the Mist boat tour here— but the park does offer several easy hiking trails to get you close enough to feel the spray. 2221 Taughannock Road, Trumansburg, 607-387- 6739, http://www.nysparks.state.ny.us/parks
For detailed Finger Lakes travel information, contact the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance, 800- 548-4386, http://www.fingerlakes.org.
Places to bunk in the Finger Lakes range from chain motels to cozy inns and B&Bs. Be sure to book well in advance— especially in Ithaca, which has a notorious shortage of places to stay. For Finger Lakes B&Bs, contact the Finger Lakes Bed & Breakfast Association, 877-422-6327, http://www.flbba.org.